Grandparent bonds glue broken system
All together: Isabella Casale, Starr Vinciguerra, Zander Vinciguerra, Nikeisha Vinciguerra, Anton Vinciguerra, mother Sandra Vinciguerra and grandmother Adriana Vinciguerra. Picture: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

Grandparents are picking up the pieces of a broken childcare system and many are getting trapped into doing "more than is good for their lifestyle", according to a seniors group.

One-quarter of Australian children under 12 are cared for by their grandparents, who have become a largely unrecognised workforce offering parents a cheaper, more flexible alternative to formal day care.

Council on the Ageing chief executive Ian Yates said though grandparents loved the opportunity to help their children and bond with their grandchildren, some older Australians were feeling the pressure.

Mr Yates hoped the Productivity Commission's inquiry into child care would lead to a more flexible, accessible and equitable system - which in turn would reduce pressure on grandparents.

"They are picking up the pieces of a system that doesn't work properly, and getting trapped into doing more than what's a good thing for their lifestyle," he said.

In its submission to the commission's continuing inquiry, the Australian Federation of Graduate Women noted that using grandparents raised another issue: that of older Australians, usually women, leaving the workforce or reducing their working hours to care for children.

"Productivity is still lost in this scenario, although different groups of women are affected," it said. The federation warned the trend could also result in reduced savings or superannuation to provide for retirement.

The commission looked to recognise the contribution grandparents make by recommending that they be eligible for the childcare rebate, provided they completed the appropriate training to become qualified carers. Mr Yates said though not all grandparents would want payment, or to complete required training, it was fair to give them the option.

Isabella Casale, a grandmother of 10, has spent the past 20 years helping to care for her four daughters' children, and she would gladly do it all over again.

The 66-year-old said it was a chance to bond with her grandchildren while helping her children return to part-time work.

"I love doing it," Mrs Casale said. "I don't see it as work, I see it as just part of family life and I do it for the love of the family."

For the past five years, she has helped her youngest daughter Sandra Vinciguerra, 39, who works as a nurse at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital four to five days a fortnight.

The inflexibility of formal childcare facilities' opening times meant Mrs Vinciguerra and her husband David, a fruit and vegetable wholesaler, had to consider other options for their five children because the Vinciguerras start work so early.

The Gnangara couple are the legal guardians of Nikeisha, 12, and Anton, 9, and biological parents of Xander, 7, and Starr, 5.

They also foster 20-month-old Hayley.

Mr Vinciguerra's mother Adriana, 63, also helps care for the grandchildren - a role that starts at 6am. "I volunteered - I wanted to look after my 'little gremlins'," she said.

"I do it out of pleasure and don't want any reward. It's enough for me when they call me Nonna and give me a hug and kiss."

Both grandmothers said they were in a financial position that let them help care for their grandchildren.

But some struggled with expenses such as petrol and would appreciate financial help from the Government.

Mrs Casale said it could be tiring caring for children after raising her own family.

"There were times that I was very tired, but you don't think of it because you're doing it with love and they need you, so you just carry on," she said.

The West Australian

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